For the second straight weekend, the Western Carolina Catamount baseball team fought off Saturday troubles to bounce back and win a weekend conference series, defeating the Georgia Southern Eagles three games to two (13-12, 3-17, 13-8).
Making the victories just a little bit sweeter was the fact that the Cats were able to defeat former head coach Rodney Hennon, who left Cullowhee two years ago. In his first series against his alma mater Hennon and GSU picked up three one-run victories in Statesboro a year ago.
Head coach Todd Raleigh agreed that beating his former teammate and friend was nice, but picking up the series victory was better.
“Having played with Rodney and Mike (Tidick) it’s great, but it’s not personal. We battled hard last year and lost three one-run games,” Raleigh said. “And Georgia Southern and Western Carolina is a big rivalry, that and The Citadel, because we’ve all had the most success in the conference. But this was big because of our positioning in the standings and winning at home is what we’re supposed to do.”
The Catamounts wrapped up the series win with a 13-8 victory which saw the emergence of the WCU bullpen as a key factor. After starter Seth Foster was chased after an inning and two-thirds, Robbie Hoover stopped the bleeding with the Cats trailing 7-1. Enter Ryan Basner in the third and that was it for Georgia Southern.
“Basner was the key for us today,” said Raleigh. “He gave us the emotional and physical lift we needed. He came in and put up doughnuts on the board and that made our hitters relax.”
Basner pitched seven innings, scattering four hits and allowing only one run, while striking out seven to pick up his second win on the season, and earning Southern Conference Pitcher-of-the-Week honors.
Junior Donovan Minero and sophomore Alan Beck feasted on the Eagles’ pitching, going for a combined 7-of-10 and 11 RBIs. Minero homered twice and Beck homered and doubled twice in the win. Currently, the two sit atop the Southern Conference in homeruns with eight apiece.
“There were a lot of heroes today,” Raleigh said, following Sunday’s win.
Another hero was sophomore Rod Goldston. Despite posting an 0-for-2 day at the plate, Goldston drew four walks and scored two runs. He also flashed the leather in left field, including a running grab that landed him face-first in the left-center fence.
Goldston suffered a slight cut on his left eye, a busted nose, and a chipped tooth — but held on to the ball. His defense seemed to inspire the team. That, or assistant coach Jeff Sziksai’s “waking up of the bats,” helped the Cats rally from six down.
Saturday woes continued for the Cats as they dropped their fifth Saturday contest of the season, 17-3. Junior Dan Foley suffered his second loss of the season, surrendering seven runs on 10 Eagle hits while striking out a pair.
“Dan didn’t have his best stuff, but he didn’t pitch bad,” said Raleigh. “We just got down by too many and couldn’t get any momentum started.”
The Eagles scored one in the top of the first, but WCU answered in the bottom, tying the game at one apiece. The game remained relatively close until GSU scored four in the sixth and six in the seventh to break it open.
Goldston and junior Ryan Schade went two-for-four from the plate, both tallying doubles. Matt Price was a perfect two-for-two in reserve as catcher.
Friday’s game seemed to be out of reach for the Diamond Cats until an eight-run, bottom-of-the-ninth-inning rally gave WCU the emotional 13-12 win.
Sophomore Todd Buchanan led off the inning with a solo homerun to cut the GSU lead down to 12-6. Later in the inning, with Beck and Todd Roper aboard, Buchanan doubled home the game winner.
“Buchanan was definitely the hero today,” said Raleigh. “We felt like we had a chance going into the ninth. It showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. It was good for our program.”
Buchanan finished 3-for-5 on the day, scored three and knocked in a trio. Catcher Ryan McCurry was a perfect 3-for-3, drawing a pair of walks and doubling. Brian Sigmon went 2-for-2 when he took over the designated hitter role midway through the contest.
Robbie Hoover picked up the win, his second on the season, in two-and-a-third innings’ work. He gave up four runs on four hits while fanning three. Jared Burton was denied his team-high fifth win, lasting six and two-thirds and giving up eight runs on 12 hits.